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HPV: Yet Another Sexually Transmitted Disease

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For those of you still under the delusion that HIV and the AIDS virus are the only sexually transmitted diseases out there that you need to worry about, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest report should be a good wake up call.

According to their recent report, one in four women aged 14 to 59 are infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). The percentage reaches nearly 50% when the age range is dropped to women aged 14 to 34, with prevalence increasing on a per year basis within the range. After 24, outside the age of greatest sexual activity, the rate of infection decreases.

HPV is known to bring about anything from minor skin irritants to being a cause of cervical cancer. About 100 different variants of the virus have been identified, of which approximately thirty are sexually transmitted. There are about a dozen known types that can result in a woman developing cervical cancer.

Doctors and researchers concur that the only way to correctly diagnose the virus, and to ensure that any embryonic cancer growth is detected, is for women to have a yearly diagnostic test known as a Pap Smear. A Pap Smear is able to detect the presence of abnormal cells that could be a precursor of cervical cancer. As long as testing is done on a regular basis the chances of a woman dying from cervical cancer are reduced dramatically.

One only need compare the incidences of death from cervical cancer between countries in the developed world where Pap Smears are available to those of countries where they are not to see what a difference they make. While around 3600 women will die from cervical cancer in the United States, hundreds of thousands die worldwide with the majority of those deaths occurring in countries without proper gynaecological treatment.

While a Pap Smear can be used to catch HPV after the fact, it would be better still if there were a means of preventing its transmission in the first place. Since abstinence can't be enforced except through turning every male into a eunuch at the first sign of sexual maturity, other more valid options are available.

The regular use of a condom offers about a 70% chance of preventing the virus' spread, plus there are assorted antibacterial creams that can be utilized, which will help. Remember that sexually transmitted diseases are not limited to the genital areas only. HPV has been seen as a factor in anal, throat, and mouth cancers, so precautions need to be taken during all sexual activity.

Best of all is the new development of a vaccine that has just received FDA approval in 2006. Gardasil has been approved for women aged 9 to 29. Not only is it effective against two of the cancer-causing sexually transmitted variants, it's also effective for use against non-sexually transmitted types of the virus that are responsible for plantar warts and other uncomfortable skin conditions. So don't go flying off the handle about encouraging pre-teens to have sex — it's just a vaccine that has a multitude of positive uses.

If there is something that should be making people upset about this vaccine or about the report in general, it's why the other half of the equation hasn't been tested or studied. In most cases of heterosexual relationships it's not just a woman involved — for a woman to contract HPV she has to have caught it from someone.

But instead of examining or testing men for the virus, medical research has focused its efforts on women when it comes to prevention. Why not look at ways that men can prevent the transmission as well? Women may be the ones most at risk so there is an obvious need for them to be tested for that reason, but why not go to the source of the risk for testing and prevention?

Yes, a man can wear a condom and cut down on the chances of passing a sexually transmitted disease, but why not develop a vaccine for men? Wouldn't it increase the chances of safety if men as well as women had secure preventive techniques?

But it's just like with birth control. The onus for prevention is still placed squarely on the shoulders of the woman and not the man, even though a pregnancy can't happen under normal circumstances without both participating. The old line – if men could get pregnant think of the advances in reproductive technology that would have been made by now – when applied to sexually transmitted diseases becomes even more appropriate; men do get and transmit disease just as readily as women.

Maybe it would help men take more care if they knew facts like certain types of HPV are responsible for over 50% of penile cancers? Although less common than cervical and vaginal cancer, it still occurs. But since no studies have been done on the incidence of men with HPV those figures could be higher. If we don't know how many men have HPV how can we truly tell how many cases of penile cancer have been caused by it?

You'd think the lessons we've learned from AIDS, that sexually transmitted diseases don't discriminate, would have been absorbed by now. Even though news stories are full of facts and figures about how women are affected by HPV it doesn't mean men aren't part of the picture.

Even if they were to find that the virus has little or no bearing on the health of men, which they won't because of the previously mentioned penile cancer link, shouldn't men take it upon themselves to bear some of the responsibility? Could you really live with yourself knowing that because of your carelessness someone you loved died of cervical cancer?

Sexually transmitted diseases don't have to place anyone at risk, no matter one's level of activity. All that needs to be done is ensure proper education, protection, research not limited to only one gender, and everybody taking responsibility for their actions. But somehow that simple solution seems to keep eluding us and until we achieve it people will continue to die for no reason, and there is no excuse for that.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • anne

    I sense a little sexism here. So HPV is serious, I already new that but both men and women need an education. I have seen both men and women not care a about this virus and do stupid things. There is no test for HPV in men. It is harder to create a vaccine for men when you cannot test the results. I assure you they are working on a vaccine for men, it is just more difficult to create and do clinical tests. Females are clearly a carrier as equal to males, if not more. I just sense that men are getting that they are the sole carriers of this virus. In fact females are more susceptible to contracting most STIs. Females can contract HPV from both males and females. HPV can even be contracted from mother to child during birth. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, however it does not require sex. Probable cases of HPV infection have been linked to the use of shared towels. Anyone with HPV is a potential carrier regardless of sex.

  • HPV

    Hpv is a huge Std these days its so easy to catch and condoms don’t even work against this Std. It seems everyone has it and people are starting to talk about it more wich is important.

  • Shelley

    I’ve just been vaccinated with Gardasil, it is not yet mandatory in our school, but i took advantage if this free vaccination.
    I totally agree, if you want to stop the spread of a disease you knock out the main character. Gardasil is safe to use on males, but was only registered as a cervical cancer vaccine thus the free vaccination of only females…
    The responsibility should not just fall on the females to stop the spread of HPV’s but also the male carriers…..

  • Good Girl

    Cervical cancer is nothing to be ashamed about and HPV is NOT the only cause of cervical cancer…not an STD

    I have it and consider myself morally respectable and a lady…Thank You!

  • Oh, that’s the obvious question in my mind. If you wanted to stop an epidemic wouldn’t you want to vaccinate the carrier?

    I actually haven’t heard of any reason why the current vaccine wouldn’t work on boys and men, but since the focus is on women it would seem that the old stigma of cervical cancer being a bad girls cancer hasn’t totally gone away. It’s just been transmuted from it’s the girl’s fault to it’s a girl’s responsibility.

    It should be the responsibility of both parties.

    Please note that HPV isn’t commonly tested for, even in the porn industry and other sex workers.

  • Tim

    This is a situation where parents should talk to their family doctor (whom they presumably trust), to get all of the information before making a decision. Sara of Parenting With Sara just wrote a column about this, illustrating how parents can become confused when they lack information. cheers, tk